After two months of trial, jurors declared Tuesday in Washington that two leaders of the far-right militia Oath Keepers were indeed guilty of "sedition" during this coup that shook American democracy.
This charge, punishable by 20 years in prison, involves planning the use of force to attack the government. Difficult to prove, it is very rarely used and the last conviction in this respect dates back almost a quarter of a century.
“The verdict strengthens the Department of Justice,” which oversees prosecutions related to the January 6, 2021 attack, said Barbara McQuade, former federal prosecutor and law professor at the University of Michigan.
“Now that it is known that jurors are accepting this seditious conspiracy theory, the chances of being convicted are higher and this could motivate some defendants to plead guilty and cooperate with investigators in exchange for reduced sentences,” says- her to AFP.
Other militants of radical groups, the Oath Keepers but also the Proud Boys, are soon to be tried for sedition, and their cooperation could play a crucial role.
"Talking to those who planned the attack will help prosecutors determine whether the planning involved Trump and his allies," McQuade says.
- "No doubt" -
As a pledge of independence, the work of these investigators has been placed under the leadership of a special prosecutor since Donald Trump relaunched himself in the race for the White House.
But the decision to charge him or not will ultimately rest with the Minister of Justice Merrick Garland, a methodical man who moves forward with caution in this politically explosive file. Without excluding anything however.
"The Ministry of Justice is determined to bring to justice all those responsible for this assault," he repeated on Tuesday after congratulating his teams for their "tireless work" in the Oath Keepers case.
To make his decision, Merrick Garland will be able to rely on the conclusions of a parliamentary inquiry expected in the coming weeks.
The elected Republican Liz Cheney, who co-directs it, mentioned in June the existence of evidence of a "seditious plot".
In an interview with the Harvard Gazette last week, Democrat Jamie Raskin, responsible for writing the final report, remained more cautious.
“There is undoubtedly” material to prosecute Donald Trump, he said. The count of "conspiracy to obstruct official proceedings seems to apply perfectly to what he did", he added, without commenting on the heavier one of sedition.
- "Devils" -
Proving that the Republican billionaire had planned the use of force remains difficult indeed.
In the Oath Keepers case, prosecutors were able to rely on messages calling for "civil war" to challenge the result of the 2020 presidential election, but also on the purchase of weapons stored in a hotel near Washington .
Donald Trump used a fiery vocabulary well, going so far as to call on his supporters gathered at his call in Washington on January 6, 2021 to “fight like the devils”. But investigators have not established - at least publicly - any links between the far-right militias that ran amok that day and the property mogul.
Asha Rangappa, a lawyer and former FBI agent, also noted that only two officials of the Oath Keepers (its founder Stewart Rhodes and a local leader Kelly Meggs) had been convicted of sedition on Tuesday and three other members of this militia acquitted on this point.
“The bar is set very high for securing a sedition conviction and it seems unlikely that Trump will be prosecuted on this count,” he tweeted. "We need more evidence."